The Kenya National Anthem is a beautifully composed song with an authentic African melody. The anthem evokes a deep sense of patriotism among Kenyans. It is commonly played during international events, particularly sporting events when Kenya excels.
Within Kenya, the national anthem is played during national holidays and during other important or historical events. During these occasions, a military band performs the national anthem, asserting the anthem’s role as a symbol of Kenya’s national unity.
The history behind this anthem is as rich as that of the country and its people. Kenya, being a colony of the British Empire those days, had a strong influence from the queen. It was no wonder that the first national anthem adopted was the British anthem – ‘God Save the Queen.’
This was to later change as Kenyans began to prepare to receive the mantle of sovereignty and freedom from their colonial masters in 1963. It was imperative that a homegrown national anthem is in place before that great day of independence.
The government, therefore, constituted a 5-member commission headed by the then Kenya Music Adviser, Graham Hyslop, with George. W. Senoga-Zake, Thomas Kalume, Peter Kibukosya and Washington Omondi as members.
This method of preparing a national anthem was completely new in Africa. It was the first time a group of local musicians were given the task of preparing an anthem for consideration by the Government.
In presenting the anthem, the commission noted that it had to reflect the idioms of the traditional music of Kenya. As such, many tunes from various parts of the country were considered, and it was by no means easy to find those which would fulfil all the demands made in the context of their use as a National Anthem. Ultimately the commission settled on a traditional Pokomo tune sang by mothers to their children.
The tune had to be of the right length and quality, yet possessing the necessary dignity. It had to be of such character as to make the writing of suitable words manageable and this was complicated since the Commission set out to provide words in Swahili and English. The tune also had to lend itself to appropriate harmonization and orchestration for performance by a military band, without impairing the original tonality of the melody.
It was expected that the lyrics would express the deepest convictions and the highest aspirations of the people as a whole. Considering that words can either unite or divide, great care had to be taken to ensure that the Anthem was an indisputable unifying factor in the life of the nation.
What came out was a national song of petition, praise and thanksgiving to God, the creator of this universe. In it, the people of Kenya ask God to protect the land of Kenya from any foreign attack. It emphasises unity, peace and liberty, not only within the country but also with the neighbouring countries.
The Kenya National Anthem finally focuses on the varied heritage of the country which forms an essential part of its identity and spectacular beauty. It is simply a beautiful anthem for an equally beautiful country.